February 2000 Bulletin

High speed downloading on the way

Telecommunications industry racing to bring broadband technology to office, home

By Howard Mevis

Today, high speed Internet connections are a reality and tomorrow there is the promise of even faster links to the information you want. These new technologies make using the Internet much more enjoyable and will create the impetus for an entirely new set of online services.

Whether these technologies take the form of a telephone wire, cable television line or satellite link, each technology will help you move from page to page at the snap of your fingers and quickly download video and audio files. Imagine watching an Academy video program on demand, in real time, on your computer. You can do it today although the quality is not satisfactory. However, in the near future it will be better and better.

The Internet is driving a telecommunications industry race to build the infrastructure needed to bring high bandwidth or "broadband" communications into your home and office. Most people now connect to the Web using a dial-up modem—a device designed to enable streams of data to be carried over telephone lines intended to carry voices. When the new broadband technologies are deployed, the Internet is on and ready when you want it.

Telephone line

The fastest modems in use today send and receive data at 56,000 bits per second (56Kbps). With the ever-increasing speed of computers, 56 kbps technology is unacceptable. Why buy a "rocket in a socket" only to be stuck in the modem quagmire? Telecommunication companies are developing Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technology that uses existing copper telephone wires to increase access speeds and eliminate the dial-up modem.

DSL achieves higher data rates. It codes the data in a bandwidth that is larger and occupies higher radio frequencies than the one used for voice. There are eight versions of DSL capable of delivering 40 Kbps up to 52 million bits per second (52 Mbps) to the home (downstream) and a slower rate—less than 1 Mbps—from the home (upstream). The most popular version in use allows you to send data upstream at 144 Kbps and receive data downstream at 1.5 Mbps.

Telecommunication companies in most major metropolitan areas, and some rural areas, offer DSL technology. Today’s DSL technology has one major limitation and one major problem. Your home or office must be about 3.5 miles from the telephone switching station and there are reports of installation nightmares. DSL has real promise as telephone technology passes more than 80 million homes in the United States. Typically, there are charges for installing the equipment in your home or office and a monthly usage fee, usually about the same as a cable modem connection.

Coaxial cable (cable TV)

The cable television industry is fast deploying new hybrid fiber-coaxial cables to bring high speed Internet traffic to your home. The Internet connection is made first through a fiber optic line from the cable "head-end" most of way to your residential area. Then, the coaxial cable distributes the signal to your neighborhood homes. To access the Internet, you must lease a cable modem and connect it to the cable.

In the cable system, the data line is shared by all of the cable modem subscribers. The data rates are 128 Kbps upstream and 10Mbps downstream. Speed may decrease as more users make a connection. To eliminate speed loss, cable companies are installing technologies to isolate neighborhoods.

You must be a cable subscriber to obtain the cable modem service. There is an installation fee and monthly charges are about the same as DSL. You lease the cable modem through the cable service to ensure system compatibility. However, new standards have just been developed that will allow you to purchase a cable modem that will work in all cable TV systems.

At the moment, cable has the largest share of the broadband market. But, the telephone companies have the capital to build infrastructure. In the long run, you will be best served if both technologies succeed. The competition will create more choice.

Howard Mevis is director of the AAOS department of electronic media, evaluation and course operations.

Computer Link welcomes suggestions about future topics for the column and questions about the use of computers in orthopaedic practice. Send your suggestions to the Bulletin at AAOS, 6300 N. River Rd., Rosemont, Ill. 60018.


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